It may be time to fear the mullet, at least at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For the second time in three races at the half-mile track, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fought his way into contention, survived the usual Bristol carnage and found himself with a top-five finish, coming home fourth in Sunday’s Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes.
The result was Roush Fenway Racing’s best finish and first top five of the season.
It’s also just Stenhouse’s third career top 5 in his third full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. The two-time Xfinity Series champion finished second to Carl Edwards in last year’s spring race at Bristol before finishing sixth in the fall race.
On the race’s final restart, a green-white-checkered attempt on Lap 509, Stenhouse went from sixth to fourth on old tires.
“A lot of guys were on new (tires),” Stenhouse said. “But we worked really hard and fought really hard and made a lot of adjustments … We still need a little bit to go up and contend and lead laps, but we always feel good coming to Bristol. It’s one of my favorite tracks and it was a good night for us. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Stenhouse started in 25th next to girlfriend Danica Patrick and was in 10th by the halfway point.
“We started towards the back and (crew chief) Nick (Sandler) had some good strategy to leap frog us early and get inside the top 20,” said Stenhouse, who hadn’t finished better than 12th in the season’s first seven races. “We just kind of maintained passing cars. I thought we were done for a while there at the end with old tires.”
Roush Fenway is doing what it can to rebuild a program that hasn’t won since Edwards, who is now with Joe Gibbs Racing, was victorious at Sonoma last June. Edwards also gave RFR its last top-five finish – at Kansas in October.
“I wish we could get (Bristol success) to translate to other race tracks,” Stenhouse said. “I think the high bank is what really helps us to get our car to turn here and being able to run the top. If it was a race track around the bottom here, I think we would struggle a little bit.”
Stenhouse’s teammates, Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle, finished 28th and 30th respectively.
Stenhouse’s effort turned out to be a nice gift for owner Jack Roush, who turned 73 Sunday.
“I wanted to get a win for Jack’s birthday,” Stenhouse said.